Monday, 7 December 2009


Madman Entertainment
Out Dec 9 on DVD and Blu-ray

In 1975, Five Australian television journalists were murdered by Indonesian troops during that nation's invasion of East Timor. No one has been brought to justice for this crime nor has the Australian government done anything to force the Indonesian government's hand on the issue.

If that sounds angry it is. Anger drives Robert Connolly's film about the Balibo Five, as it does the families of the men who were killed and who still want for answers almost 35 years later. The film depicts its version of events and while fictional, is based on the book Cover-Up by Jill Joliffe.

Balibo is constructed as a political thriller, not so much a 'whodunnit' but a 'what happened'. When a young man named Jose Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) arrives in Darwin to persuade war correspondent Roger East (Anthony LaPaglia) to see for himself what the Indonesians are doing to East Timor, he lures him with the story of the Australian journalists missing in Balibo.

East heads to East Timor and we proceed to learn of their fate as he does, in flashbacks which are spot-on recreations of the footage shot by the journalists in 1975. We also witness the brutal murders of the journalists, of no less impact for being 'fictional'; I'll take Connolly's version of events over that of the Indonesian government which continues to insist the journalists died during crossfire.

My initial reaction to Balibo was one of anger; for the loss of young lives, for the Indonesian government's refusal to reveal the truth and the Australian government's implicit silence on the matter. But I also felt a pang for the loss of journalistic bravado these men represent. The days of journalists, particularly in television, going after the story and covering 'real' news at all costs have sadly passed. Why report on a distant war when we they can catch a Tiger by the tail?

But I digress. For whatever reason you see Balibo, or whatever you hope to get out of it, rest assured that you will be seeing not only the best Australian film of the year but one of the best films of the year period.

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